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Thread: Book about dogen/shobogenzo

  1. #1

    Book about dogen/shobogenzo

    Hello guys,

    The last book I purchased in the section of zen was 'Opening the hand of thought', I liked it very much and it was very well adapted to cover the basics about zenbuddhist practices and understandings. I think I've got some general understandings (yeah right ) about buddhism/zen/meditation and thinking about getting a new 'more advanced' book, to have something to spend my time with between my zazen sittings ...

    ... a book about dogen and his mysterious shobogenzo. I don't think it's such a good thing to start with 'the' original shobogenzo work directly? I'm afraid it will feel like the time I started to read Nietzsche, begun with his poetic work 'Thus spoke Zarathustra' and gave up some 20 pages in total confusion. So by not making the same mistake again I'm planning on getting a book about dogen/shobogenzo introduced/explained by some contemporary teacher/writer. Maybe later on as my zazen and my knowledge about zen/soto/dogen gets deeper I can start looking into the original work, which I would like to do very much.

    I've done some research - both on the Internet in general, and in our book reading recommendation list here on treeleaf. I've come up to two titles that seem legit for my purpose. These are:

    1. The heart of shobogenzo
    2. Realizing Genjokoan

    Both seems very interesting and I have a hard time picking which one to take! So I'm asking you all about suggestions and comments here. First and uppermost people that have read these volumes, but any general suggestion is also welcomed. Maybe there's some books I've completely missed that should be thought about as well?

    Edit: (add) Also, what's the 'best' translation of the shobogenzo now days? I know Jundo recommends Chodo Cross version right? How about this one? Seems like its published 2013?

    Last edited by Neo; 07-02-2014 at 03:26 AM. Reason: Added sub-question to the post!
    .. because he constantly forgets him self,
    he is never forgotten ..

  2. #2
    Hello Neo,

    I really enjoyed Realizing Genjokoan. Another that I think is a good one is Visions of Awakening Space and Time by Taigen Leighton. It examines Dogen From what I can see on Amazon the hard copy has jumped sharply since I last looked it up, but the Kindle version is more reasonable if that's something that you'd be okay with.

    And if you want to dive into Shobogenzo, the Tanahashi et al translation is I believe a very accessible version. The translators have pages and pages of context and examples of literary devices that Dogen used while composing it, and that has been very helpful for me. I also believe, however, that Shobogenzo is not something that you dive into with an expectation of understanding. I read "Genjokoan" nearly every day, and every time it is different. I used to think that I understood what he was talking about in the chapter "Uji," but now would not even say that I get the gist of it. Shobogenzo cuts off all understanding and expectation of understanding; all that is left is non-thinking. It is the wisdom of Silence expressed in words.

    Hands palm-to-palm,

    To give up yourself without regret is the greatest charity. --RBB

  3. #3
    Oh, REALIZING SHOBOGENZO by far, case closed, over and out! ! !

    One of the best ... maybe the best ... intro to Dogen by the great Shohaku Okumura!!!

    Here is my little review ...

    It is on our recommended list ...

    Nothing so very wrong with the other, by the way, but it is a bit dated, and the Waddell translations are very accurate but considered a little off key sometimes.

    Awakening Space and Time is also recommended for folks who wish to go a bit deeper into Dogen's writing style, especially how he played and danced with Zen Sutras and classic stories.

    By the way, my own little posts on "How To Read Dogen" ... This is my effort to make Dogen approachable for people who have trouble getting an ear for his music. Digg'm as a Jazzman ...

    SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Dogen - A Love Supreme

    A bit more detail on his writing style and word tricks ...

    How to Read Dogen

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-02-2014 at 05:23 AM.

  4. #4
    Oh yes ... I too very much enjoyed Realizing Genjokoan. It truly helped understand some of the questions and head scratching I faced. =)

    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  5. #5
    Well Jundo, thats the title of the book realizing it, twisting with our brains even in the title.. maybe some day I'll realize non-realizing Swedish snow and meatballs. Anyway, I think ill go with your recommendation. I've allready read 'Opening the hand of thought', so I may keep going with Shohaku Okumura on this one, realizing just now he was the author of of realizing genjokoan! It's nice to have two books with the same name in the bookshelf.

    But what I didn't get with your replay was the current 'best' translation of the true dharma eye. Should I stick with Cross version? (2009?), or shall one try to get hold of the 2013 version by Kazuaki Tanahashi?
    Last edited by Neo; 07-02-2014 at 04:02 AM.
    .. because he constantly forgets him self,
    he is never forgotten ..

  6. #6
    Hi Neo,

    I believe the links on Shobogenzo I provided have some more information on the various translations available, somewhere in those threads.

    In a nutshell, the Nishijima-Cross translation are generally considered the most precise (although any translation has its own quirks), but sometimes lacks in the poetry that was so important to Dogen because of the precision and faithfulness to the original. The Tanahashi translations are the easiest on the ear, and are also very accurate ... although sometimes he sacrifices precision for sound. Overall, however, I would recommend new folks to go with Tanahashi.

    Tanahashi Sensei's recent complete translation of Shobogenzo is wondrous, but pricey and huge. I would go with many of his earlier translations, published in small books of highlights out for years ... "Moon In A Dewdrop" ...

    and "Enlightenment Unfolds" are two books that would be the best start.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I found it ...


    Of course, the full 4-volume translation into English of the Shobogenzo by my teacher (and Taigu's Dharma Grandfather) Nishijima Roshi and Chodo Cross (Taigu's teacher) is here in PDF (there are also book versions) ...

    There are also some other partial translations of Shobogenzo available, most by the Soto Zen Text Project (a scholarly project sponsored by Soto-shu in Japan), Robert Aitken and some others ... Here is a list ...

    also more here

    The Shasta Abbey version by Rev. Hubert Nearman does not particularly ring my bell. I find it too flowery and reverential, possibly due to the flavor of that lineage. Their founder was an incredible woman, but taken to inner voices and visions and speaking as an oracle of the Buddhas (much like Teresa or Avila). She also was trying to reconcile the Shasta Abbey practices with traditional Anglican ceremony (for example, their chants much resemble the Book of Common Prayer). Portions of the style and wording of their Shobogenzo are very "King James" in feel. So, that must be take into consideration. Their chants and practices are beautiful however, but it can be clearly felt in this translation.

    Awhile back, I did ask the noted Dogen scholar, Steve Heine:

    (1) of all the Shobogenzo translations out there, which is the most "accurate" from the point of view of Buddhist scholarship and translation (i.e., most faithful to what Dogen actually wrote)? (2) which is the most readable by the non-specialist, while still being as faithful as possible to Dogen? I told him not to be polite to my teacher, Nishijima Roshi, in answering.

    He said that, as far as Shobogenzo translations, Waddell/Abe, is perhaps the most "accurate" even though out of date in some ways (it is a reprint of renderings done in the 1970s). Tanahashi's several books are always very very good, and perhaps the most accessible to a non-scholar (at the intersection of literal accuracy and readability). He highly recommended those. Nishijima/Cross, he said, is the best of the complete translations, but it has many problems in grammar, typos and other small quirks (due to my teacher's limited English abilities and some peculiarities about Chodo Cross' style and Nishijima Roshi's personal philosophy) that it is best for serious students who can pick out the minor problems and see the underlying strength.

    The Soto Text project promises someday to be the best overall, but is coming out in small doses, still spotty and not quite living up to potential yet. Nishiyama/Stevens and Yokoi are to be avoided. Cleary, Masunaga, and Shasta all have some strengths, but are not nearly as good as the first sets above.

    That is from a Dogen scholar's point of view.

    It is worth mentioning that Kazu Tanahashi just issued a full translation of the Shobogenzo (he had issued bits and pieces in past decades) ... although the price tag is still as hefty as the books themselves ...

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-27-2017 at 01:59 PM.

  7. #7
    Thank you Jundo, Kazu Tanahashis translation of shobogenzo seems to expensive for me rightnow, I'll just stick to Chross version if I want dive into it and read some lines. However, I've ordered 'genjokoan explained' and I'll hope it will help me approach the old master and his works in the right way and I'm looking forward to getting my teaths into it.
    Last edited by Neo; 07-02-2014 at 09:04 AM.
    .. because he constantly forgets him self,
    he is never forgotten ..

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